Two UK charity partners, DFN and Hft, are offering young people with learning disabilities and autism life-changing internship opportunities and the chance to learn vital skills.

DFN Project SEARCH is a transition to work programme for students with learning disabilities and autism. The project’s ambition is to get 10,000 young adults with learning disabilities and autism into full-time paid jobs over the next decade.

Hft’s employability coaches will work with DFN, liaising with partners, recruiting and inducting interns, and matching people to roles that will aid the development of their skillset. They will also provide 1:1 support and relevant training throughout their employment journey.

Overcoming barriers

The programme has a proven track record, with 83% of graduates who complete the programme going on to find and remain in paid employment.

Bryony Dolby, National Programme Coordinator at Hft said: “The DFN Project SEARCH model, and the support of an Hft Employability Coach as part of this, helps to overcome barriers that people with learning disabilities and/or autism face around employment.

"Through collaborative working with education partners and host businesses, we help interns to achieve their aspirations and goals. We have had so many stories from graduates of our programmes who tell us how much it means to them to be working and contributing financially at home; and how it has helped them to become more independent while; developing their confidence and building their self-esteem.”

High praise from service users

Dean and Nathan both joined DFN Project SEARCH in September 2019 after graduating from college. They both joined Lancashire County Council's ICT Service Centre for their first placement, where they initially ran a tuck shop to raise money for a local charity, before moving into the ICT department.

Since finishing the supported internship, Dean and Nathan have gained paid employment within the ICT Service Centre on a Supported Apprenticeship.

Dean highly recommends the project for others in a similar position, he said: “For the people who are looking for something to do after finishing your college years then I would definitely recommend coming to DFN Project SEARCH if you are looking for employment."

The charities expect further growth in 2022

Hft say they expect the programme to expand further from September 2022, and hope to support more young people with learning disabilities and autism to achieve their employment aspirations.

DFN Project SEARCH CEO Claire Cookson said: “It has been a pleasure working with Hft and their wonderful team of employability coaches. They have been fundamental and crucial to the continuity and success of our programmes.

“We can’t thank them enough for all their hard work and helping DFN achieve its ambition of transforming the lives of young people with autism and learning disabilities throughout the country.”


You can learn more about DFN Project SEARCH by visiting their website